Monday, January 30, 2012

Lemon Cheesecake goodness

I've been wanting something sweet this weekend, but didn't feel like eating anything store bought cause it's usually that buttercream stuff, which has lost its charms... So since it was Sunday, and I had some time on my hands, I turned to that Special Cookbook Edition of Canadian Living (mentioned a while back when I promised to make recipes from it).

Well... here it is - a recipe for Lemon Cheesecake Bars (well, mine was just a rectangular "cake"). I'll give you the amounts as the recipe lists them, but I will mention that I didn't have the proper bake ware, so I ended up cutting all of the amounts in half and making a smaller version of this delicious dessert. It turned out light and fluffy, unlike your usual "heavy" cheesecakes, and the hint of lemon added that much needed contrast in taste (kind of reminded me of a lemon meringue taste).


Friday, January 13, 2012

It was late... but winter is HERE!

Mother Nature spoiled us this autumn/winter season. Average temperature in November'11 was +10C (which is 5 degrees above seasonal)! And except for a few freezing rain occurrences and a week of freezing temperature, December was fairly mild as well (I missed that week while in Jamaica, ha-ha!).

It started yesterday... Something like 15 cm of snow started to fall and accumulate, and today - another 10 cm! Though it looked pretty blizzard-y out there, it wasn't too too cold, so I took a short "photo" walk at lunch. Although driving in these conditions is... a challenge, it really does look like Winter Wonderland! I hope you enjoy these images :)

...until I write again!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jamaica - Bob Marley Mausoleum

Alright, moving on to my adventure outside the resort #2... The Bob Marley Mausoleum. To tell you the truth, I'm not a huge fan or anything; I've heard his songs and kind of knew what Bob Marley was about. So why did I go on this excursion, you ask? Well, you know "when is Rome"! :)

Anyways, this was something about local culture, and is a BIG deal for the Jamaican people. I personally liked this one - it costs US$88 and included transportation there and back, the tour itself (local guide, not the one you ride with), and a nice lunch.

WARNING: Die-hard fans might be disappointed in this tour... although you'll learn a bit about Bob, you won't be given his full biography, so the main thing to remember is to go on this excursion with an open mind! :)

Through the hills and valleys, and after about a 2-hour bus ride (air-conditioned, thank God!) we arrived at Nine Mile village in the parish of Saint Ann (post on Jamaican countryside is coming!!!). The people here are welcoming and, as promised by other reviewers of this place, you'll see THE GUY selling THE STUFF... This is what they'll tell you: "You can smoke it there. If you can't smoke it, you can eat it. If you can't eat it, you can drink it. We take care of everybody!"

... that's where they unload the busloads of tourists. I gotta say, some of the people look like they got on the wrong bus! LOL! But then again, you just never know.

This is supposed to be 18+ tour... I don't know, that kid in the corner eating a chocolate cake spiked with weed does not look 18 to me. I hope his dad (who I'm assuming is the guy next to him, also eating) knows what he's doing...
I personally didn't want to spend any money on that, but it's apparent how popular this "vendor" is!

Although you'll be going uphill, it's really not necessary to wear running shoes to this excursion, especially since you'll be taking your shoes off up ahead.

I do recommend going up the stairs while the others are still indulging. You'll be able to take some nice photos and just take in the scenery, it really is beautiful.
Stairs do not have ANY railing, so don't go crazy with all the weed available downstairs!!!

Okay now, I understand that some people get upset/frustrated with the commercialization of this place. Yes, you'll enter through their giftshop (where everything is a very good deal, apparently)... Yes, you'll go up a few more stairs and be faced with T-shirt vendor. You will also be offered a candle for US$1 to light in Bob's crypt. It's not as awful as some people pain it, and all you have to do though is to ignore all of this. Just go ahead of everyone, even a little bit... That's what I did, and I got the opportunity to take photos uncluttered with a crowd and I got to ask our guide a few simple questions one-on-one.
According to our guide, Nine Mile village, like many others in Jamaica, still has no running water in every house. Can you imagine that?! They wait for rain to fall, wait for said water to run down the limestone formation and get collected in the storage tank:

Water collecting "system", with images of the former Emperor of  Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, who is considered to be a Messaih by the Rastafarians
 You'll learn a little bit about Bob Marley in the small museum-like room, with some of his albums and posters hanging on its walls, in addition to his mother's portrait and her old piano.

What is interesting is that the piano says Witamyer, but when searching for this brand online, I only find Wittmayer pianos, hmmmm......
Next, you'll witness a great performance by a local band. And our guide participated too! His name was Benjamin; he's not Captain Crazy that everyone is raving about (and apparently, he's a Youtube celebrity of sorts now). BUT Benji was great - entertaining, funny, nice, and he spoke clearly and sang quite well too!
This is just about 3 minutes of a longer performance:

TIP #8: if you're bringing a video camera, pack a regular (photo) camera also! past this point, they won't let you videotape, but you can snap away in all places except inside the crypts.

Inside the gate and up the hill we went. It's breathtakingly beautiful, the nature, the flowers, the incline (not done up with stone)...

View from the top

For the Rasta people, Bob lives...

Once you're up there, Benji asked us to take off our shoes, as a sign of respect. Believe it or not, there were people that couldn't understand that part and were trying to argue!!! Some people...

All of the guides joke that you'll get your shoes tomorrow, after they've sorted trough the brand-named ones, LOL. But some people just don't have a sense of humor, I guess.
Bob's house an his eternal resting place
Before we entered either building, Benji described some of the things for us. The house you see on the left is really tiny, two rooms with barely any space for more than a single bed. The single bed that Bob slept on is still inside (though it says "no photography", they allowed us to snap a few shots). The mausoleum right next to the house is where Bob and his half-brother Anthony are resting in peace. Bob is the only one "6 feet up" as they say because he's laying in the top "bunk" of the crypt. The place beneath him was reserved for his mother, Cedella Booker, but when his brother got shot, she decided that the brothers should be together. She passed away in 2008 and is resting in a similar mausoleum next door.

Inside Bob's mausoleum is were you got to light a candle, if you purchased one, walk around his crypt and make a wish before blowing it out and leaving the candle there.

What I found to be a really neat thing about this place is that it puts things in context. Bob's "pillow", his single bed, the scenery he was looking at while writing some of his songs... it's al still there, even if the organizers dressed it up a little.

Marley's single bed and his meditation rock, aka Bob's pillow

Benji making a joke while imagining how Bob laying on his "pillow"
Another awesome thing was this - Benji was talking about references in Marley's songs, and he started to sing:
"I want to love you and treat you right,
 I want to love you every day and every night,
 We'll be together with a roof right over our heads,
 We'll share the shelter of my single bed,
 We'll share the same room, yeah! for Jah provide the bread.
 Is this love, is this love, is this love,
 Is this love that I'm feelin'?"...

With him these children started to sing. They popped out of nowhere, beyond the walls of the mausoleum. It was great hearing them sing!

A small point about children from this village - as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I've come across reviews of disappointed fans that really did not like it here and were upset at how commercialized this place has become. Look at these kids! This village, by the looks of it, is holding together BECAUSE of this place, BECAUSE they cater to us tourists rather than shunning people away. These children have an opportunity to go to school, build by Marley's mother and named in her honour. Whatever the money this place makes, I'm sure that Marley and his family would be glad that they are able to continue to provide support for their home community.
I encourage you to come to this place and take it all in, you won't be sorry you did!
Oh, and bring some small bills here too, to tip these hard-working people :)

... and that's my review of day spent well!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jamaica - Thinking Outside The Resort

As promised, let me share with you my thought on a few activities you can do while vacationing in the beautiful island that is Jamaica.

I have to admit, I was planning on staying on the resort the whole time we were there. Why? Well I thought since Jamaica is the capital of the crime world that it would be unsafe, period... and it's funny because I don't come from the safest country either if you read Canadian Border Services advisory (Belarus, my country of birth, not Canada). Let me just say - I WAS WRONG!

Now, I'm not saying you should just wonder out of the resort and walk about town, no. But since there's not much to buy (other than some rum if you're thinking of bring it back) I suggest spending the money you bring on some wonderful excursions. According to some reviews I've read, there are a few private/independent companies that offer great tours; but since we didn't take much time to research that we just booked our outside trips with what they had available at our resort (which was just fine).

Here are the tours that people from our group went on (in different combinations): Dunns River Falls (apparently, a must!), Dolphin's Cove, ATV off-road adventure (the boys love this activity), Zip-lining, Bob Marley Mausoleum, Montego Bay Shopping. I don't know if I'm forgetting anything...

Personally, I only ventured out twice: the Montego Bay Shopping & Sightseeing and the Bob Marley Mausoleum.


I think this "tour" was something like US$60, but honestly, there wasn't much sightseeing... Basically, the driver talked a little bit about the things we were passing while driving (like, "oh look, there are banana trees on your right"). So if you choose to take part in this tour, think of it as a group cab ride to the market with the bus driver coming to get you should the locals try to devour you!

TIP #6: don't recommend this trip if you're not into haggling at all.

Anyway, the shopping itseld was alright - you'll likely make 2 stops - one at the store with "good deals" where you'll REALLY have to haggle your way, and the second stop at something that looks like a crafts market.

Stop 1 - before buying anything, take a walk around your resort's gift shop and take note of what you'd like to buy and how much it costs there. You should use that as a benchmark. For example, I bought a shot glass for US$5, which I haggle for - original price was US$10; only later I saw the same shot glass at our gift shop for US$4! The "good deals" store will either have items with prices that are just ridiculous or no prices at all. You'll have to haggle your way down. I was able to get the shop owner from US$196 to US$130 (I bought shot glasses, magnets, postcards, t-shits and a baseball hat).

Stop 2 - the crafts market... This basically looks like a mini village of attached little huts that pretty much have the same things inside each one and a hut owner that begs you to come in and look (because they don't charge for looking!). Unless you are willing to buy something (and there are a few nice things in there, such as jewelry made of natural materials), DO NOT ENTER the hut! :)

TIP #7: Bring lots of small bills (1s and 5s) because you will not get change! What they will try to do is to get you to buy something from their friend's hut.

I gotta say, I'm alright with this sort of thing; from time to time we haggle in our markets in Belarus, but some people that were on the bus with us couldn't handle this and didn't like the experience that much. To each their own, I guess.

Here are some of the photos from that trip outside of the resort:
Now, I know it's hard to see it here, but this is their local REHAB...
also known as the liquer shop and pool hall!
At the crafts market
Some local entertainment spots on Gloucester Avenue

Gloucester Avenue

See that Margaritaville on the corner? There is a free shuttle that will take you there (I think you need a reservation though)

What you'd see standing next to Margaritaville... ahhhhhh...

right across from the crafts market this beautiful tree grows...
Coming up next, I will tell you all about our visit to the Bob Marley Mausoleum!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jamaica - Beautiful Flowers

Although things like food were subpar at our resort, there were a few things that were wonderful on our trip. Below I would love to share all of the beautiful flowers we were surrounded by:

~ wondrous variety of Hibiscus flowers:
Hibiscus flowers
Hibiscus flowers

~ bushes upon bushes of Alpinia purpurata (often known as Red Ginger or Ginger Lily, though these species were pink)
Pink Ginger Lily (Alpinia purpurata)

~ large bushes of beautiful clusters of Lantana (these are from the Verbena family of flowers)
Lantana flowers

~ all along the paths we walked by lovely bright colours of the Bougainvillea, including pink, magenta, purple, red, and white (apparently, these come in orange and yellow too!)
Bougainvillea bushes
~ Jamaican Wild Orchid

~ flower from the Allamanda variety

~ red layered Hibiscus

~ one of the many varieties of Begonia (this one I found at the Bob Marley Mausoleum!)

~ finally, captivating Ixora flowers

~ the flowers below are also beautiful, and I have found similar flower images online, but I just couldn't figure out their names... are you able to help?
(some images are "fuzzy" because of a nice Jamaican breeze!)